From free throws to fiction: UCSB basketball alum publishes second book

Until his second season playing basketball at UC Santa Barbara, JD Slajchert had no intention to pursue a career in literature.

Now, six years removed from his collegiate athletic career, Slajchert has published two novels — his most recent, “Darling, You’re Not Alone,” was released on Nov. 3.

Slajchert never flourished as a writer for his classes, but to escape from the perpetual intensity of Division 1 basketball, he would occasionally sit down to write letters to friends. After one of his biggest fans, a 10-year old with sickle-cell disease named Luc Bodden in his high school hometown of Oak Park, passed away on Sept. 14, 2016, Slajchert began to write more and more, and his letters ultimately developed into his first book.

“I just sort of had this pretty seismic shift in my life where I wanted to do more than just be an athlete, and so I started writing,” Slajchert said. “​​[I] spent days of my life instead of studying, I was just writing, and it became this really cathartic healing experience to the point where it was all I wanted to do.”

In his novels, Slajchert has drawn from real-life experiences to create stories that are fictional and surround heartbreaking issues.

His first book, “MoonFlower,” is about sickle-cell disease; Slajchert’s inspiration to chronicle the topic stemmed from his relationship with Bodden.

The idea for “Darling, You’re Not Alone” originated from Slajchert’s close friend’s parents, who were both shot during the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas in 2017. They have since made full recoveries, but the tragedy prompted Slajchert to write about a similar event.

“I think it has to be talked about more. I think it’s ridiculous that it’s a part of our lives,” Slajchert said

The novel follows 15-year-old protagonist Phoenix Iver who survives, what is, in the novel, the worst school shooting in US history while living in the fictional town of Darling, Colorado.

Iver struggles with social anxiety and depression and, throughout the book, is forced to cope with them before and after the shooting. Iver receives comfort from his ultra-positive father and best friend Herman Iver, who, in another subplot, mysteriously changes careers from police officer to school security guard, which Iver aims to learn about as the story progresses.

“The worst part of humanity, to me, is a school shooting, but this book also contains what I think is the best part of humanity, too,” Slajchert said. “​​​​I want people to walk away with the idea that if really bad things can happen, that we can know about and talk about, then so too, must equally as good.”

In both of his books, Slajchert has written about issues that are notably heavy, between the trauma that follows a school shooting and the suffering that accompanies a child with sickle-cell disease.

Slajchert noted that writing two separate novels that involve serious material was entirely purposeful and that he prefers to write stories about poignant subjects that are typically less talked about.

“I feel like if I’m going to dedicate so much time to something… it should not only be a good story and a good fictional novel, it should also shine a light on something maybe we didn’t know a lot about,” Slajchert said. “Maybe someone out there who is going through a tough talk can read this book, and it’ll help them… that makes it all worth it to me.”

After finishing “Darling, You’re Not Alone,” readers are encouraged to take part in the very thing that launched Slajchert’s career as a novelist: letter writing.

In the back of the book exists the #YoureNotAlone Letter Writing Campaignwhich asks readers to write a letter to a loved one with the first sentence reading, “You’re not alone,” followed by a short paragraph describing why the reader cares about the loved one or what the loved one means to them.

“It’s not so difficult to just write someone and say ‘Hey, you’re not alone’ and maybe two or three sentences, but it can make a really big impact on someone’s life in a good way,” Slajchert said. “I think there’s real power in that.”

“​​The hope would be that if you write to someone and give them that message, then they can then go and write to someone too and it can kind of create this … mission for good in a small way,” Slajchert continued. “As a writer, I think you fall in love with the small things, and this is just sort of my small mission of trying to make the world a better place.”

“Darling, You’re Not Alone” is available to read on Amazon, and is linked on Slajchert’s website.

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